ORIGIN OF THE PHOENICIANS AND CANAANITES, SEA PEOPLES AND PHILISTINES

ORIGIN OF THE PHOENICIANS

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Carthage head
The Phoenicians were a Semitic-speaking people. Nobody knows who they were or where they came from. Ancient Phoenicia more or less corresponded with ancient Lebanon with extensions north into present-day Syria and south into present-day Israel and was best viewed as a group ports with their surrounding hinterlands and mountains in their backyard and the sea at their door step.

From the best that can be ascertained the Phoenicians were a mix of peoples and states that eventually became a people of their own. They emerged as a significant cultural and political force around 1100 B.C. Early Phoenicians lived in a small area of the coast in present-day Lebanon. The land was good. They had pastures, orchards and vineyards. Looked outwards towards the sea to expand. From the 9th to 6th centuries B.C. they dominated the Mediterranean Sea by extending a string of colonies throughout the region.

In the early 2000s, Spencer Wells, a geneticist at Harvard, and Pierre Zalloua, a geneticist at the American University in Beirut, took blood samples from people in areas where the Phoenicians lived in Lebanon, Tunisia and Spain to gain some insight into where the Phoenicians came from, who they were and what happened to them based on clues that could be gleaned from their DNA.

Wells and Zalloua also were interested in testing a couple of hypothesis. One was that both Muslims and Christians in Lebanon were descendants of Phoenicians. In the civil war era, Maronite Christians claimed they were they descendants of Phoenicians and the Muslims were not. The issue of Phoenician descendant became so divisive that the word Phoenician became taboo and was even absent from Phoenician displays in museums.

Genetic studies indicate that many of the people in Lebanon are descendants of Phoenicians and Canaanites while their impact in North Africa was minimal. DNA evidence indicates that most people that live there are indigenous North Africans and they did not come from the Middle East either during Phoenician era or during the Islamic expansion in the A.D. 7th century. DNA studies in Lebanon also reveal that both modern Muslims and Christians there share common Phoenician ancestors going back more than 5,000 years. On what he surmised about the Phoenician, Wells told National Geographic: “Apparently they didn’t interbreed much. They seem to have stuck mostly to themselves. They were a slippery people. They came, they traded, they left. I guess that only adds to their mystery.”

Early History of the Phoenicians

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Phoenicians inhabited the coastal cities, Tyre, Sidon, Byblos and Arwad, in what is now Lebanon and southern Syria. However, since their writings were made on papyrus, little remains except what has been written about them by Greek and Egyptian scholars. [Source: AFP, May 26, 2016]

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “With the exception of Byblos, which had been a flourishing center from at least the third millennium B.C., the Phoenician cities first emerged as urban entities around 1500 B.C. As Egyptian and Near Eastern documents record, the Late Bronze Age (1550–1200 B.C.) was a time of economic prosperity for these trading centers. Confined to a narrow coastal strip with limited agricultural resources, maritime trade was a natural development. [Source: Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art. Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2004, metmuseum.org\^/]

"With the decline of Egyptian influence about 1200 B.C., the cities were freed from foreign domination. The ultimate collapse of Egyptian power in the region occurred about 1175 B.C. at the hands of the Sea Peoples, of whom the best known are the Philistines. Along with Israelites, they settled in the southern Levant. For reasons not yet fully understood, the massive disruptions caused elsewhere in the Levant appear to have had a minimal effect upon the Phoenician coastal centers. There is therefore much continuity in Phoenician traditions from the Late Bronze Age until the Hellenistic period around 300 B.C.” \^/

Canaanites, First Inhabitants of Lebanon

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Phoenician mask
The Phoenicians evolved from the Canaanites, a Semitic tribe of the Middle East, which also gave birth to the people of Ugariti, the Hebrews (Jews) and later the Arabs. The Canaanites were the earliest inhabitants of Lebanon according to written historical records. They were called Sidonians in the Bible. Sidon was one of their cities. Artifacts unearthed at Byblos have been dated to 5000 B.C. They were produced by Stone Age farmers and fishermen. They were repelled by Semitic tribes people who arrived as early as 3200 B.C.

Canaanites ousted the Hittites, invaders from present-day Turkey; overpowered the Ugarit people on the Syrian coast and drove southward until they stopped Ramasses III, the pharaoh of Egypt. The Canaanites also had encounters with the Hyksos, a people who conquered lower kingdom of Egypt; and the Assyrians.

According to the Bible, the ancient Canaanites, were idol worshipers who practiced human sacrifice and engaged in deviant sexual activity. They reportedly conducted human sacrifices in which children were immolated in front of their parents on stone altars, known as Tophets, dedicated to the mysterious dark god Molech. We have some idea what the Canaanites looked like. An Egyptian wall painting from 1900 B.C. depicts Canaanite dignitaries visiting the pharaoh. The Canaanites have Semitic facial features, and dark hair, which the women wear in long tresses and the men have styled in mushroom- shaped bundles on the tops of their heads. Both sexes wore bright red and yellow clothes---long dresses for women and kilts by the men.

From what scholars have been able to ascertain, the Canaanites were a largely urban people that originated in eastern Syria, migrated southward along the Mediterranean lived mostly between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean in what is now Israel. They never were very strong or established an empire and in fact were often overrun by the great empires of Mesopotamia, Egypt and Anatolia. By around 1100 B.C. they had been absorbed into the Israelites.

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Phoenician mask
Canaanites buried 4,000 years ago were folded up with their arms and legs crossed and placed in burial pots, sometimes wearing a necklace made with gold, rock crystal and carnelian beads. The burial pot and the position of the dead, it is thought, was intended to replicate the position of a newborn in a womb ready to be reborn into the afterlife. At Ashkelon (see Below) Canaanite families placed corpses in burial chambers and kept them there until the flesh rotted off, a process that took several months, then they would bury the bones in recesses and corners of the chambers. Over time the remains of a lot of individuals could get crammed inside. At Ashkelon babies were buried with Egyptians scarabs, magical charms, suggesting, archaeologists say, that they were accorded the status of full-fledged adults.

The Canaanites are believed to have been the first people to possess an alphabet. A 13th century B.C. tablet with column of Canaanite words was found at Ashkelon. Believed to have used to teach scribes languages, the tablet appears to have contained other columns with other languages, perhaps the Semitic cuneiform language of Akkadian and another unrelated tongue, possibly Hurrian or Hittite.

The desolate Valley of Hinom, just south of the Old City in Jerusalem, is where the ancient Canaanites reportedly conducted human sacrifices in which children were immolated in front of their parents. Canaan objects, excavated by archaeologists include an 18.5-inch-long ivory horn with gold bands, circa 1400 B.C., unearthed at Megiddo in present-dat Israel, and a vessel with the Egyptian hawk-god Hyksos, unearthed in Ashkelon.

Canaanites at Ashkelon

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Around 1850 B.C. Canaanites occupied the coastal settlement of Ashkelon, one of the largest and richest seaports in the Mediterranean in ancient times. Ashkelon was located in present-day Israel, 60 kilometers south of Tel Aviv, and dates back at least to 3500 B.C. Over the centuries it was occupied by Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and Crusaders. Conquered by the Egyptians and Babylonians, it was probably visited by Samson, Goliath, Alexander the Great, Herod and Richard the Lion-hearted. The presence of all these cultures and historical periods means the site is rich archaeologically but also difficult and complex to sort through. [Source: Rick Gore, National Geographic January 2001]

Canaanite Ashkelon covered 60 hectares. The great wall that surrounded it when it was at its height was an arc over two kilometers long, with the sea on the other side. Just the ramparts of the wall---not the wall itself---were up to 16 meters high and 50 meters thick. The towered wall on top of it may have risen to a height of 35 meters. The Canaanites built a vaulted corridor with arched gateways in the city’s mud-brick north wall. The site’s excavation has been overseen by Harvard archaeologist Lawrence Stager since 1985.

The Canaanites occupied Ashkelon from 1850 until 1175 B.C. Sanger told National Geographic, “They came by the boatload . They had master craftsmen and a clear idea of what they wanted to build---big fortified cities. With plentiful supplies of fresh water, it was a major exporters of wine, olive oil, wheat and livestock. Studies of their teeth indicate they ate a lot sand in their food and their teeth wore down quickly.”

Among the important finds made at Ashkelon were the oldest arched gateway ever found and a silver-plated bronze calf, a symbol of Baal, reminiscent of the huge golden calf mentioned in Exodus, found in 1990 by Harvard archaeologists. Ten centimeters tall and dated to 1600 B.C. the calf was found within its own shrine, a beehive-shaped pottery vessel. Baal was the Canaanites storm god. The statue is now on display in the Israel Museum.

At its height Canaanite Ashkelon was probably home to 15,000 people , quite a large number in ancient times. By comparison Babylon at that time might have had 30,000 residents. The Egyptians considered the Canaanites to be rivals and cursed the Ashkelon kings by writing their names on figurines and smashing them to magically destroy their power. Stager has suggested that the Canaanites perhaps were the Hyksos, mysterious people from the north that conquered the ancient Egyptians, based in the discovery of artifacts in Egypt from the Hyskso period that are identical with those found in Canaanite Ashkelon. Around 1550 B.C. the Egyptians expelled the Hyksos and dominated Ashkelon and Canaan.

Ugarit

Ugarit was an important 14th century B.C. Mediterranean port located on the Syrian coast, 10 kilometers north of the Syrian port of Latakia on the Mediterranean coast, east of the northeast coast of Cyprus. It was an the next great Canaanite city to arise after Ebla. Tablets found at Ugarit indicated it was involved in the trade of box and juniper wood, olive oil, wine.


Ugaritian head

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art:. “Its ruins, in the form of a mound or tell, lie half a mile from the shore. Although the name of the city was known from Egyptian and Hittite sources, its location and history were a mystery until the accidental discovery in 1928 of an ancient tomb at the small Arab village of Ras Shamra. “The city's location ensured its importance through trade. To the west lay a good harbor (the bay of Minet el Beidha), while to the east a pass led to the heart of Syria and northern Mesopotamia through the mountain range that lies parallel with the coast. The city also sat astride an important north-south coastal trade route linking Anatolia and Egypt.[Source: Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art. "Ugarit", Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2004, metmuseum.org \^/]

“Ugarit was a flourishing city, its streets lined with two-story houses dominated on the northeastern side of the tell by an acropolis with two temples dedicated to the gods Baal and Dagan. A large palace, built from finely dressed stones and consisting of numerous courtyards, pillared halls, and a columned entrance gate, occupied the western edge of the city. In a special wing of the palace were a number of rooms apparently devoted to administration, since hundreds of cuneiform tablets were discovered there covering almost all aspects of the life of Ugarit from the fourteenth to the twelfth century B.C. It is clear that the city dominated the surrounding land (though the full extent of the kingdom is uncertain).. \^/

“Merchants figure prominently in Ugarit's archives. The citizens engaged in trade and many foreign merchants were based in the state, for example from Cyprus exchanging copper ingots in the shape of ox hides. The presence of Minoan and Mycenaean pottery suggests Aegean contacts with the city. It was also the central storage place for grain supplies moving from the wheat plains of northern Syria to the Hittite court.” \^/

Books: Curtis, Adrian Ugarit (Ras Shamra). Cambridge: Lutterworth, 1985. Soldt, W. H. van "Ugarit: A Second-Millennium Kingdom on the Mediterranean Coast." In Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, vol. 2, edited by Jack M. Sasson, pp. 1255–66.. New York: Scribner, 1995.

Ugarites and the First Alphabet

According to the Guinness Book of Records, the earliest example of alphabetic writing was a clay tablet with 32 cuneiform letters found in Ugarit, Syria and dated to 1450 B.C. The Ugarits condensed the Eblaite writing, with its hundreds of symbols, into a concise 30-letter alphabet that was the precursor of the Phoenician alphabet.

The Ugarites reduced all symbols with multiple consonant sounds to signs with a single consent sound. In the Ugarite system each sign consisted of one consonant plus any vowel. That the sign for “p” could be “pa,” “pi” or “pu.” Ugarit was passed on to the Semitic tribes of the Middle east, which included the Phoenician, Hebrews and later the Arabs.

Ugarit texts refer to deities such as El, Asherah, Baak and Dagan, previously known only from the Bible and a handful of other texts. Ugarit literature is full of epic stories about gods and goddesses. This form of religion was revived by the early Hebrew prophets. An 11-inch-high silver-and-gold statuette of a god, circa 1900 B.C., was unearthed at Ugarit in present-day Syria.

The Ugarit alphabet was passed on to the Semitic tribes of the Middle East, which included the Phoenicians, Hebrews and later the Arabs.


Ugaratic letters


Philistines, Phoenicians and Sea Peoples

Some archeologist and historians believe a mysterious group known as the Sea People — perhaps ancestors of the Minoans — migrated to Lebanon around 1200 B.C. and mixed with local Canaanites to create the Phoenicians. Other archeologist believe the Philistines were originally a Sea People group.

On the link between the Sea People and Phoenicians, Maria Eugenia Aubet, a leading Phoenician expert at Pempeu Fabra University in Barcelona, told National Geographic: “I think they became friends, Phoenician material culture shows so many elements from the Sea Peoples. The Phoenicians learned from them how to build harbors, moorings, docks, and piers. The Sea Peoples, like the Phoenicians, were excellent navigators---and how they knew the routes west to the rich sources of metals." DNA evidence seems to indicate the impact of the Sea People, if they existed, were a cultural and technological group, not a blood group. The geneticist Wells told National Geographic, “The Sea People apparently had bo significant genetic impact on populations in the Levant."

John R. Abercrombie of the University of Pennsylvania wrote: “Although the earliest depictions of Sea People occur in the reign of Seti I, the major incursion of these Aegean people happened about a century later during the reign of Ramesis III of the Twentieth Dynasty. Around 1180 B.C., Ramesis III defeated the Sea People in a land and sea battle at the borders of Egypt (ANEP., 341, 813). The Philistines, one of the Sea People groups, are easily identified on the depiction of the battles by their distinctive headdresses. Since the 1920's, most scholars have linked those headdresses with some of the anthropoid coffin burials from Beth Shan and elsewhere in Eretz Israel. [Sources: John R. Abercrombie, University of Pennsylvania, James B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts (ANET), Princeton, Boston University, bu.edu/anep/MB.html |*|]

Be aware that a few scholars do not link all coffin burials with the Philistines, but with other groups including Canaanites and Egyptians. Besides the headdresses and biblical references, archaeological data suggest the appearance of a new group along the coast. The distinctive Philistine ware (Mycenean IIIc1b) appears in the twelfth century and continues into the eleventh century. This pottery tradition has close parallels to Cyprus as well as other islands in the eastern Mediterranean, and suggests that the Sea People may have originated from the eastern Mediterranean rather than Crete (Amos 9:7 and Jeremiah 47:4). Cremation burial, which can be cited from Anatolia and the Aegean, occurred in the coastal region beginning in the twelfth century and continued well into the seventh century. |*|

“The Philistine pentapolis came under control of David and remained generally part of Judah or Israel for most of the 10th and probably part of the ninth century. Later some of the Philistine city states exercised independence from the descendants of Jacob. Also, the general region became known as the land of the Palestu (=Palestine), or Philistines. |Recent excavations at Ashdod, Ashkelon, Tell Miqne (Ekron), Tell esh- Sharia (Ziklag) and Tell Qasile are amplifying our understanding of this intrusive Aegean culture. Sites, such as Ain Shems and even Sarepta, provide additional information on related cultures (e.g. Phoenicians). |*|

“The coastal region north of Carmel had been known since the time of Thothmosis IV as the land of the Fenkeu, or Phoenicians. In the Iron Age the Phoenician merchants plied their martime trade on the Mediterranean and were the first mariners to circumnavigate Africa. They established a number of Punic colonies in North Africa, Spain, France, Italy and the Aegean islands. Much of their culture in the Lebanese coast, however, remains undocumented in part due to disturbance of Iron Age sites by later Persian, Hellenistic and Roman cultures. Sarepta, excavated by James Pritchard, is one of the few sites from which we can document in Phoenicia proper the culture of these mariners of old in their homeland. |*|



“In many ways, one can summarize the material culture from Phoenicia and its colonies as reflecting developments on Canaanite culture from the Bronze Age. (Compare, for example, the small shrine at Sarepta to the Bronze Age temples from Beth Shan.) Of course, this culture is greatly influenced by the Aegean world and continues to reflect that eclectic world we characterize as Canaanite in the Bronze Age.” |*|

Sea Peoples

Some archeologist and historians believe a mysterious group known as the Sea People---perhaps ancestors of the Minoans---might have migrated to Lebanon around 1200 B.C. and mixed with local Canaanites to create the Phoenicians.

Maria Eugenia Aubet, a leading Phoenician expert at Pempeu Fabra University in Barcelona, told National Geographic: “I think they became friends, Phoenician material culture shows so many elements from the Sea Peoples. The Phoenicians learned from them how to build harbors, moorings, docks, and piers. The Sea Peoples, like the Phoenicians, were excellent navigators---and how they knew the routes west to the rich sources of metals.”

DNA evidence seems to indicate the impact of the Sea People, if they existed, were a cultural and technological group, not a blood group. The geneticist Wells told National Geographic, “The Sea People apparently had bo significant genetic impact on populations in the Levant.”

Egypt and the Sea Peoples

Ramses III (1195 – 1164 B.C.), the last great pharaoh of Egypt, is best known for defeating the Sea Peoples — a combination of several different peoples that some historian gave birth to the Phoenicians. The "Sea People," ravaged the Near East and advanced south towards Egypt and were halted by Ramses III in the fifth year of his reign. Among his other accomplishments were revived trade with the Land of Punt, reestablishing law and order throughout the country and launching a tree planting campaign. His monuments include the temple at Medinet Habu. [Source: Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com ^^^]

Pierre Grandet wrote: “Athough the king prevented the invasion of Egypt by the Sea Peoples, their migration forever changed the geopolitical landscape of the ancient Near East and seems to have been a key factor in this mutation by gradually depriving Egypt of any control of its former Asiatic territories. [Source: Pierre Grandet, 2014, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 escholarship.org <>]


Sea People invasion


Invasion of the Sea Peoples

The Sea Peoples annihilated the Hittite Empire and looked they might do the same to the Egyptians. The Great Harris Papyrus, the longest know papyrus, describes how many people throughout the region were made homeless. ‘The foreign countries plotted on their Islands and the people were scattered by battle all at one time and no land could stand before their arms.’

Pierre Grandet wrote: “In year eight, Egypt was faced with another threat of invasion—this time on its Mediterranean shore and its northeastern frontier—by a group of peoples of probable heterogeneous ethnicity, but whom the Egyptians clearly perceived as a kind of confederation of related tribes. This perception was mainly due to two features common to all these tribes: their being equipped with Mycenaean weaponry and their geographical origin being “their isles” or “the sea,” an Egyptian designation for the Aegean world, the confederation comprised two main peoples: the Pulasti and the Sikala, helped by the lesser Shakalusha , Danuna , and Washasha , Peleset, Shekelesh, Denen , and Weshesh ). [Source: Pierre Grandet, 2014, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 escholarship.org <>]

“Less than one generation earlier, a group of peoples of the same origin (including the Shakalusha ), had been party to an attempted Libyan invasion of Egypt in year five of Merenptah, and had been dubbed “Peoples of the Sea” in the commemorative inscription of this king’s victory. Some of them had been known to the Egyptians as sea-raiders and mercenaries since the reign of Akhenaten, in the 18 th Dynasty, and took to plundering the Nile Delta and other parts of the Mediterranean in the following centuries. When captured, they were often included in the Egyptian elite troops, as the Shardana of Ramesses II’s guard at the battle of Qadesh— a position that they still retained under Ramesses III.” <>

“Around 1200 BCE, these peoples began a large and destructive migration to the south and east of the Aegean. While the bulk of them proceeded by land, their advance was preceded by nautical raids against the coast and the islands of the Eastern Mediterranean. C ilicia, Cyprus, Ugarit, and even the Hatti fell to their attacks, which reached inland as far as Karkemish on the Euphrates. In year eight of Ramesses III, they invaded Amurru, whose territory adjoined Egypt’s, where they took the time to regroup their forces before moving south, allowing the pharaoh to mobilize his forces. <>


Egyptian relief of Sea People prisoners


Ramses III Defeats the Sea Peoples

The Sea Peoples This great movement of people was well armed and desperate. Mark Millmore wrote in iscoveringegypt.com: “The Sea Peoples were on the move. They had, by now, desolated much of the Late Bronze Age civilizations and were ready to make a move on Egypt. A vast horde was marching south with a huge fleet at sea supporting the progress on land. To counter this threat Ramses acted quickly. He established a defensive line in Southern Palestine and requisitioned every available ship to secure the mouth of the Nile. Dispatches were sent to frontier posts with orders to stand firm until the main army could be brought into action. [Source: Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com ^^^]

“The clash, when it came was a complete success for the Egyptians. The Sea Peoples, on land, were defeated and scattered but their navy continued towards the eastern Nile delta. Their aim now, was to defeat the Egyptian navy and force an entry up the river. Although the Egyptians had a reputation as poor seamen they fought with the tenacity of those defending their homes. Ramses had lined the shores with ranks of archers who kept up continuous volleys of arrows into the enemy ships when they attempted to land. Then the Egyptian navy attacked using grappling hooks to haul in the enemy ships. In the brutal hand to hand fighting which ensued the Sea People are utterly defeated. ^^^

The advance of the Sea Peoples was finally stopped in the Nile delta and their power was broken. Some of the them, including the biblical Philistines and the Phoenicians — both of whom are regarded as descendants of the Sea Peoples — settled in Palestine and The Levant respectively. With the exception of the defense against the attack from the Libyans, the rest of Ramses III’s long reign was peaceful.

Pierre Grandet wrote: “Medinet Habu sources, both textual and iconographic, reduce this campaign to two main battles, addressing the twofold threat the Sea Peoples represented: first, the repelling of an attempted landing by a group of enemy ships, crushed between Egyptian warships coming from the high sea and Ramesses III’s infantry waiting for them on the shore; and second, an inland battle, fought against a migrating group of the same invaders, who possessed chariotry and were accompanied by carriages laden with their women, their children, and all their belongings . Although a precise localization of both these battles is impossible, our sources locate them on the shore of the Delta and in “Djahy,” an Egyptian name for Canaan. [Source: Pierre Grandet, 2014, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 escholarship.org <>]

Philistines

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The great enemies of the post-Moses Hebrews were the Philistines, a tribe that arrived in Canaan from Crete and lived along the Mediterranean coast in cities like Ekron (20 miles southwest of Jerusalem). Delilah was sent by the Philistines to discover Samson's strength. The Philistines themselves killed the Hebrew King Saul. Goliath, the giant slain by David, was also a Philistine.

The Philistines were a seafaring people that settled on the Palestine coast in the 12th century B.C. They brought early Greek culture to Holy Land and are thought to have originated from Aegean region. They were one of about a half dozen or more Sea People that arrived in the eastern Mediterranean in the 12th century B.C. The were expert metalsmiths and similar to Phoenicians in some ways.

In the Bible the Philistines were characterized as thugish destroyers. The word Philistine has come to mean a hedonistic, uneducated person. The American Heritage Dictionary defines a Philistine as a “smug, ignorant, especially middle-class person who is regarded as being indifferent or antagonistic to artistic and cultural values.”

The word Palestine was coined by the Romans and derived from Philistia, or "land of the Philistines." The Bible is the only lengthy written source on the Philistines. The bad rap the Philistines get seems to be based on the fact hat they fought with the Israelites for the better part of two centuries.

Philistines and the Historical Record

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Philistines were referred to by the Egyptians as the People from the Sea. They were defeated by the armies of Ramses II in the 12th century B.C. and later hired out as mercenaries. The historical record on them between 1,000 and 600 B.C. is sketchy. In 603 B.C. they, like the Hebrews, were conquered by the Assyrians. After that there is no reference to them in the historical record.

In the late 1980s, archaeologists discovered the remains of Ekron, a 60-acre walled city with around 6,000 residents before it was destroyed in 603 B.C. Instead of being a civilization of pleasure-seeking ignoramuses, archaeologists found that the Philistines were an industrious, innovative Iron Age civilization that grew rich from selling olives and dying cloth, and developed sophisticated metal tools and olive crushing machines.

The Philistines occupied Ashkelon from 1175 B.C. to 604 B.C. , when the city was sacked by the neo-Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. They dominated four other major cities in the region around the same time. Among the interesting things that archaeologists have dug up in Ashkelon from the Philistine period are a large winery with a storehouse and a burial ground for dogs. A thick layer of charred wood and debris marks the sacking of the city by the Babylonians. In one building the skeleton of a woman---whose skull had been smashed by a blunt instrument---was found. Nebuchadnezzar is said to have destroyed Ashkelon to send a warning to cities in the region of what would await them if they sided with the Egyptians.

On the discovery of a puppy in pot, Paula Wapnish, an animal bone specialist at the University of Alabama, told National Geographic, “We think that somebody killed it and placed it in a pit in the ground.” Team member Brian Hesse added, “The pot has char marks. I think someone was probably cooking the puppy for food but never came back for it.” Stager thinks the puppy was buried in a pot that was already charred to bring good fortune for the building it was buried under.

The artifacts that archaeologists have turned in Ashkelon from the Philistine period shows that Philistines were a very advanced people. While the Israelite were making crude, unadorned pottery, the Philistines were decorating their ceramics with designs similar to those produced in Mycenaean Greece, the civilization that defeated Troy in Homeric legend.

Stager believes the Philistines were Greeks. He bases his arguments on: 1) similarities between the Samson and Delilah story and the myths of Hercules and a Greek myth with a figure that loses it power when its hair is cut; 2) evidence that Goliath wore Mycenaean-style battle gear; and 3) animal bones remains that indicate the Philistines ate a lot pigs, a common practice among the Greeks but not among the Canaanites.

Phoenicians and Modern Lebanon

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Modern-day Lebanese look upon their Phoenician heritage with pride. Although the vast majority of them descended from Arabs, they prefer to refer themselves as Phoenicians as opposed too Muslims, Christians, Arabs or even Lebanese.

Fisherman in Lebanon still chant "El...EEE...sa, El...EEE...sa," which is believed to have originally been and ode to Elisa, the Princess of Tyre (Virgils Dido)

Genetic studies indicate that many of the people in Lebanon are descendants of Phoenicians and Canaanites while their impact in North Africa was minimal. DNA evidence indicates that most people that live there are indigenous North Africans and they did not come from the Middle East either during Phoenician era or during the Islamic expansion in the A.D. 7th century. DNA studies in Lebanon also reveal that both modern Muslims and Christians there share common Phoenician ancestors going back more than 5,000 years. On what he surmised about the Phoenician, Wells told National Geographic: “Apparently they didn’t interbreed much. They seem to have stuck mostly to themselves. They were a slippery people. They came, they traded, they left. I guess that only adds to their mystery.”

Phoenician DNA Shows Europe Ancestry

In May 2016, researchers announced that first DNA analysis of an ancient Phoenician — 2,500-year-old remains of a man from the Tunisian city of Carthage — showed that the man had European heritage. The mitochondrial DNA -- or genetic information from his mother's side -- came from a man known as "Young Man of Byrsa" or "Ariche." The findings reported in the journal PLOS ONE suggest his maternal lineage likely came from the north Mediterranean coast, on the Iberian Peninsula in present-day Spain or Portugal. [Source: AFP, May 26, 2016]

AFP reported: “According to lead study author Lisa Matisoo-Smith, a professor in the department of anatomy at New Zealand's University of Otago, the remains reveal the earliest known evidence in North Africa of a rare European genetic population, or haplogroup, known as U5b2c1. "U5b2c1 is considered to be one of the most ancient haplogroups in Europe and is associated with hunter-gatherer populations there," she said. "It is remarkably rare in modern populations today, found in Europe at levels of less than one percent.The matriarchal DNA of the man, whose remains were found by gardeners working outside the National Museum of Carthage in 1994, "most closely matches that of the sequence of a particular modern day individual from Portugal."

“The discovery sheds some new light on the history of the Phoenicians, who are thought to have originated in Lebanon and spread across the Mediterranean. Carthage was a prominent Phoenician port and trade center established by colonists from Lebanon. However, researchers were unable to find any links between the ancient man's mitochondrial DNA and that of 47 modern Lebanese people who were analyzed for the study. "Hopefully our findings and other continuing research will cast further light on the origins and impact of Phoenician peoples and their culture," said Matisoo-Smith.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, The Louvre, The British Museum, Bardo Museum

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Mesopotamia sourcebooks.fordham.edu , National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, especially Merle Severy, National Geographic, May 1991 and Marion Steinmann, Smithsonian, December 1988, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, BBC, Encyclopædia Britannica, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018


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